I have been rafting and kayaking, on and off, since I was fourteen years old. I've faced class 5 rapids. I've battled white water in three states. This weekend, I took my first drink – in the placid waters of the Great Miami River!
Consider this a cautionary tale.
My party consisted of my husband, a friend, and me. We put in at Rentschler Forest. You can find the well-maintained park on 5701 Reigart Road in Fairfield Township.
Rentschler is built on the remnants of the old Eerie Canal. It is evident that the natural flow of water has been diverted. Directly across from the ramp, a dam blocks access to the main river. Instead, a small, shallow tributary flows into the main river maybe a mile or so downstream. We stumbled upon the clever idea of crossing to the dam, carrying our kayaks across the rocky riverbed, and putting in below the dam. That way, we reasoned, we wouldn't get stuck in the shallow water of the tributary. We'd only have to walk our kayaks once, not every time the water got shallow. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable plan, right? Wrong!
Warning: don't ever do this.
We paddled across to the old dam and got out. We immediately realized that the dry riverbed over which we had to carry our kayaks was a bit longer and comprised of more treacherous terrain than we'd originally anticipated. On the map, it looks like a hop, skip, and a jump. In reality, it felt more like a slide, skid, and a stumble.
Here, I was the lucky one. My kayak is an Otter by Old Town. I bought it a few years ago, but the product has since been discontinued; that's a shame. Mine is a light-weight, no-frills kayak that is easy to carry. I'm only 5 feet tall and, I'll admit it, I'm rather out of shape. Carrying my kayak across a bed of loose rocks was certainly easier on me than it was for the guys, both of whom had larger kayaks. They had to help each other and take two trips. I got to sit by the water and play Candy Crush while I waited for them.
We put in below the dam.
Putting in below the dam proved a bit awkward. The churning water actually kicked up a bit of a current. This is where my light sit-in put me at a disadvantage to the guys' heavy sit-on-top models. Putting in at a ramp and in placid water is one thing. Climbing inside a kayak near a dam and against a current? Entirely another thing. One foot went in, one stayed planted on the rocks. I did the splits. Then, splash! Into the water I went!
Bonus: the water wasn't freezing. It also wasn't deep. I clung to my kayak, found my footing, and tried to climb back onto the bank. Unfortunately, the loose, rocky riverbed kept slipping out from under my feet every time they found purchase. My husband yanked on my shirt, a move that caused me to lose my footing again, but I eventually made it back onto the rocks without losing either my kayak or paddle. I've decided to be flattered that my husband's first reaction was to try to save me, even if I was never really in any great peril. Honestly, the thoughts flashing through my mind were less, “Oh, God!” and more, “Now I have to do laundry before work!”
After I got back into my boat, we finally paddled off. Every inch of me was dripping wet – and yes, I was embarrassed. I'm glad we had the presence of mind to take a dry bag. We use Ascend's Round Bottom Lightweight Dry Bags. We've never been disappointed with their performance, not even after a few years of wear and tear. My cell phone and wallet remained dry and functional because I stowed them in a dry bag. They're cheap ($15.99), and a must-have accessory for any day spent on the water. They're definitely cheaper then replacing water-logged phones!
The rest of the trip proved peaceful and uneventful. I spent the first half of the trip as I spend the first half of any trip: being asked to wait.
The Waiting Game: this is what happens when you have a fast kayak.
My small, light watercraft is more maneuverable and much faster than my friends' larger kayaks tend to be. The guys were using the behemoth Ascend FS128-T and the comparatively smaller Ascend FS12-T. Both are great boats for kayak fishing. For simple paddling trips like ours, however, I still prefer mine.
We hit a few areas of choppy water and a couple of spots that might qualify as rapids. Maybe. I'll give them a Class 1 status because I'm feeling generous. We also hit a few shallow patches in which the bottoms of our kayaks and the ends of our paddles scraped rock. One area had a long pipe going from bank to bank surprisingly near the surface of the water. It created a bit of a slide for us, but had the water been lower, it could have proven a major obstacle or even obstructed our journey.
We paddled about four miles down to Combs Park in Hamilton, OH. The ramp here is old and eroded, with chunks of concrete having broken off in abundance. Nevertheless, it is capable of handling larger watercraft. As we were pulling our kayaks up, a family was backing their trailer and jon boat into the water.
The entire trip, complete with a hike across a dry riverbed and a spontaneous dunking, lasted a bit less than two hours. It was scenic and refreshing – and it left me plenty of time to do laundry before work! All in all, I recommend a good paddle down the Great Miami. Just don't try to be clever and bypass the shallow water, like I did. You might end up getting wet!
Amanda Bull Chafin